“Oh, there’s corned beef and plenty of potatoes; and I shall get some asparagus, and a lobster, `for a relish’, as Hannah says. We’ll have lettuce, and make a salad. I don’t know how, but the book tells. I’ll have blanc-mange and strawberries for dessert; and coffee, too, if you want to be elegant.”
“Don’t try too many messes, Jo, for you can’t make anything but gingerbread and molasses candy, fit to eat.” (90)
Language cannot describe the anxieties, experiences, and exertions which Jo underwent that morning; and the dinner she served up became a standing joke. Fearing to ask any more advice, she did her best alone, and discovered that something more than energy and good-will is necessary to make a cook. (92)
“Well, they can eat beef, and bread and butter, if they are hungry; only it’s mortifying to have to spend your whole morning for nothing,” thought Jo, as she rang the bell half an hour later than usual, and stood, hot, tired, and dispirited, surveying the feast spread before Laurie, accustomed to all sorts of elegance (92).
The comical side of the affair suddenly struck her, and [Jo] laughed till the tears ran down her cheeks. So did everyone else … and the unfortunate dinner ended gaily, with bread and butter, olives and fun. (93)
Jenne and I have very clear roles in our 36 Eggs project. Jenne makes the food, I document the process (and I assist with tasks that are easier with more hands), and we both eat. These roles were established for a reason: I’m not a very good cook. But am I as poor of a cook as Jo March? There was one way to find out!
- I would have to shop for the ingredients and cook the dinner on my own.
- Jenne would keep me company but would not be allowed to give hints. (She did give 2 or 3 small ones — she just couldn’t help herself; she finds it exceedingly painful to watch people flail.)
- I would not be allowed to use the internet to research cooking instructions. I gave myself two exceptions: (1) the recipe for Meg’s blancmange that I toiled over last March, and (2) The Young Housekeeper’s Friend by Mrs. Cornelius (Mary Hooker), a cookbook referenced in Little Women, although not in this particular scene.
We invited our friends Hildie and Cam to join us. Being fantastic cooks themselves, they are indeed “accustomed to all sorts of elegance” that they create themselves, and played the part of jolly Laurie beautifully. (Plus, I knew they’d be too kind to judge if my food turned out a mess.)
- Lobster salad with dressing
- Boiled potatoes
- Boiled asparagus
- Strawberries, sugared with cream
- Bread (Hannah set the bread in the book, so Jenne made the dough and I just had to decide when it was “‘riz’ enough” and for how long to bake the loaves.)
- Corned beef (Jo had beef ready-made on hand, so Jenne made a slab for me the evening before)
This isn’t the most complicated meal I’ve ever made, but I was terrified of cooking without the aid of the interwebs. I didn’t realize how dependent I was on my computer or phone when making anything; I sure don’t know how long to cook asparagus or bake a loaf of bread without Googling. And Mrs. Cornelius’s “receipts” were barely any help. Nevertheless, everything turned out shockingly well, with slightly overcooked asparagus being the only hiccup. Phew, what a relief to find that I’m not as shitty a cook as Jo March, although in retrospect, I wonder how I’d have done without the help of the multiple timers on my cell phone.
The dishes felt nourishing, comforting, and not unhealthy. It really is a great slightly fancy lunch menu for friends — Jo, we admire your taste in menu planning, even though you didn’t have the skills to match your vision.
Alcott, Louisa. Little Women. Reprint. 1896. New York: Viking Penguin Inc, 1926.